India will be completing the 21-day lockdown soon. We had faced so many difficulties during the period, but there have been significant benefits too. For many, it was a time to rediscover themselves. More importantly, the sky was clearer and the air more breathable. One could hear bird calls throughout the day and many saw star-filled skies for the first time in their lives. Also, we found that most of the everyday commute was unnecessary to perform our jobs.
Many conservative companies that were reluctant to adopt technology were forced to implement work from home due to government restrictions. Except for some new-age startups, work from home was a perk even for IT companies rather than a norm. The reason was the reluctance to change. Just imagine how much resources we have wasted in developing the work culture as we know now.
In 19th century, industrialisation required huge factory set-ups and offices. At that time, an office was a necessity as phones, printers, cyclostyle machines and later faxes and computer workstations could only be provided by the employer. These were high capital investments. Many workers of last century wouldn’t have had electricity at their homes.
Even as late as a decade ago, the office printers, PC etc were expensive. Bandwidth was low and telephone lines weren’t reliable. Mobile telephony was expensive. When the IT parks started coming up in various cities in India, once again we imitated the previous century models. Huge buildings were built in cities like Bangalore, Hyderabad or Chennai in special economic zones, with glistening cafeterias, splashy offices and entertainment options in them.
The idea was to provide high bandwidth fibre optic lines and herd together IT professionals in one place and make them work from cubicles. These new generation companies were following the same model as the brick and mortar industries, which had built massive factories a century ago. The attendance system, the supervisors, the canteens, everything was derived from the previous century’s model. Same was the case with other service industries like banks, newspapers, media, insurance etc. They perched themselves in some business districts and forced the employees to commute every day.
We have seen the effects of such a model. Such facilities can only come up in huge cities with government-subsidised lands. The employees need to travel from their homes. The workers must be transported from their homes to their working place. The business districts of cities are designed to accommodate many people working together and suburban trains, bus services, roads etc were built to cater to the commutation needs of these workers.
The roads get clogged with traffic. The pollution levels shoot through the roof. Government pours more resources in building broader and broader roads and flyovers. It invests money in metros, struggles with providing accommodation to the poor and ends up at the receiving end for failing everyone, every time. The corona lockdown proved that most of our works could be done from the comforts of the home. Many managers need to be trained to trust their subordinates that they would do their work even if they take an afternoon nap. Instead of concentrating on who punched at what time in the attendance machine, the HR can focus on taking care of their most precious resources and training them properly. Instead of making work from home a perk, it can be made a tool for better productivity.
There are many sectors where work from home is not possible, like airports or hospitals. But for others, the government can mandate work from home for at least three days a week. For the reluctance of a few conservative companies to adopt the technologies and work culture of the present era, the entire country need not pay the price. We need to frame rules mandating all the works that could be done without coming to an office should be executed from home alone.
By staggering the dates of ‘work from home’ days in a week, the same buildings can be shared by many companies and the pressure to build more and more infrastructure for private profit at the cost of environment and tax breaks can be avoided. The government can utilise its resources smartly to provide better education, health and law and order instead of building more roads, more buildings and more flyovers. It would be a great service to the environment and would make India a world leader in sustainable growth. email@example.com
Author of Asura, Ajaya series, Vanara and Bahubali trilogy